District Court of Appeals
Florida’s District Courts of Appeal (individually referred to as a “DCA” or collectively as “DCAs”) review the decisions of lower courts by multi-judge panels. These Courts ensure that lower court decisions were handled appropriately and consistent with our rights. DCAs handle appeals from final judgments in circuit court cases and in most county court cases and can review certain non-final orders. In other words, if you had a case that was resolved in circuit court, but you believe the judge made a decision that was inconsistent with the law, you may file an appeal with the appropriate DCA.
There are six DCAs in the State of Florida. The DCAs in our service area are the Fifth DCA and Sixth DCA. Our service area counties within those DCAs are as follows:
- Fifth DCA: Brevard, Citrus, Flagler, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Putnam, Seminole, Sumter, and Volusia.
- Sixth DCA: Orange and Osceola.
- The Fifth DCA also contains Clay, Duval, Nassau, and St. Johns counties, but those counties are not in our service area.
- The Sixth DCA also contains Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Lee, and Polk counties, but those counties are not in our service area.
In addition to reviewing the final judgments of circuit court cases, DCAs may also:
- Review questions certified by a county court that has a final judgment that is appealable to the circuit court
- Review final actions that were taken by state agencies in carrying out the duties of the executive branch of government
- Issue the extraordinary writs of certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus, as well as all other writs necessary to the complete exercise of their jurisdiction.
As a general rule, decisions of your local DCA represent the final appellate review of litigated cases. A person who disagrees with a DCA’s decision may ask for a review in the Florida Supreme Court and then in the United States Supreme Court, but neither court is required to accept the case for further review. In most instances, the DCA will be the final arbiter in cases that are appealed.
WARNING: All appellate work is extremely complicated. We recommend you have an attorney to represent you or consult with you and that you do not attempt to represent yourself in your appeal. Our Legal Helpline may be able to give limited information and advice in appellate cases in certain circumstances but will not always be able to provide information or advice in your case.
The following information is not an exhaustive representation of all appellate rules you will need to follow in filing or defending an appeal, and if you are involved in an appellate case we strongly recommend you familiarize yourself with the Rules of Appellate Procedure. The Court will NOT assist you in any way if you are ignorant of the Rules or you simply make a mistake.
Purpose of DCAs and the appeal process.
The purpose of an appeal is to review the decisions of the trial court or lower tribunal to determine if a harmful legal error has occurred. Legal error is harmful if it affects the outcome of the case. Appeals are not trials and are not intended to give a litigant a second opportunity to reargue the facts of his or her case. The appellate court does not serve as a second jury.
An “appellant” is the person who files the appeal and is challenging the judgment entered by the trial court. An “appellee” is the opposing party who is, in most cases, simply trying to uphold the judgment.
Most appeals are started by filing a Notice of Appeal with the Clerk of the lower court or administrative agency and must be filed within the time limits specified by the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure (usually within 30 days of the lower court’s final order). If the Notice of Appeal is not filed within the deadline provided by law, the court cannot take the appeal so be sure to keep track of time once you receive the lower court’s decision.
Along with filing the Notice, you must pay fees established by the State of Florida. Currently, there is a $100 filing fee to the Clerk of the Circuit Court and a $300 filing fee to the DCA. Note: check with your local Clerk at the time of filing the Notice to determine if this amount has changed.
In addition, the lower court usually requires additional fees for the preparation of the record. The record is explained in more detail below.
If the person filing the appeal is indigent, these fees may be excused if the party files a motion to declare themselves indigent for the purposes of appellate costs. This would require a motion and affidavit to be filed in the lower court and a hearing to be held by the judge. If the Judge enters an order of indigency, the costs of filing the appeal and preparing the record will be waived, but the person would still usually be required to pay a court reporter for transcribing the trial or other proceedings which occurred in the trial court. This is generally necessary because the DCA needs to review what occurred in Court to determine if an error occurred. This may not be necessary if the Court’s language in the final order is clearly wrong, but the DCA may still want to review the transcript of the proceeding.
You should only appeal to a DCA if you have identified an area in the Court’s order that is inconsistent with Florida law, be it the Florida Constitution, Florida Statutes, or in cases interpreting the law. Appealing a case is time-consuming and expensive and should only be undertaken if there is a determined possibility of success based on the advice of an attorney or a clear error in the judge’s order.
Basic Steps in an Appeal
The record consists of papers and documents filed in the trial court. If there is a transcript of the trial this is also included in the record. Within ten (10) days of filing your Notice of Appeal, you may direct the Clerk of the Circuit Court, in writing, to include or exclude documents or exhibits filed in the circuit court. These documents will be sent electronically by the Clerk of the Circuit Court to the Clerk of the DCA (Rule 9.200). The proper form for the written directions is shown in Rule 9.900(f), “Directions to Clerk”. If you do not direct the Clerk, Rule 9.200 explains what documents will automatically be included in the Record. You will be charged by the clerk per document for the preparation of the record. If you do not require the entire Record for your appeal, you should let the Clerk of the Circuit Court know by filing “Directions to the Clerk” so that only those documents you or another party request are included in the Record on Appeal. Otherwise, the Clerk of the Court will provide the DCA with all the documents contained in the Record under Rule 9.200.
Within 10 days of filing the Notice of Appeal, you must make arrangements with a court reporter for the preparation and filing of any transcripts needed for the appeal, as explained in Rule 9.200(b). Generally, a transcript of the final hearing, or other hearing at issue, will be required for a successful appeal.
A brief is a written statement that sets forth the legal arguments of the party. The appellant sets forth the reasons why the trial court’s judgment is wrong, supporting the argument by references to the facts in the record and the law. The appellee’s answer brief sets forth reasoning as to why the arguments in the appellant’s brief do not require the reversal of the trial court’s judgment.
The Initial Brief, which is filed by the party appealing the trial court’s decision, shall contain the following, in order:
- A table of contents.
- A table of citations that includes the names of laws and cases being cited in the brief.
- A statement of the case and the facts describing the nature of the case, the proceedings that have already taken place, and the decision of the Circuit Court.
- A summary of the argument that you intend to make to the court.
- The full argument on each issue which you intend to raise.
- The conclusion, which shall not be more than one page and shall set forth precisely what relief is requested or what you want the Fourth District Court of Appeal to do.
- A certificate of service, stating that you have provided all parties to the appeal with a copy of your brief.
- A certificate of compliance that your brief is submitted in either Times New Roman 14-point font or Courier New 12-point font. See Rule 9.210 for other details and for the contents of Answer and Reply Briefs which are similar. All appellate briefs must be filed with the Clerk of the DCA and served on all parties to the appeal (Rule 9.210). All subsequent pleadings including an answer brief by the Appellee must also be served on the other party.
The Court may decide to grant you an oral argument, or the court may affirm the lower court based on the appellee’s answer brief. If you want to present an argument to the court, you must request for oral argument in a separate document filed not later than 10 days after the last brief is due to be served.
After the court receives and reviews the briefs submitted, and the record, conducts its own research, and hears oral argument, a panel of judges will sit and discuss the case. Once the court decides on your appeal, you will receive written notice from the court. If the court agrees with the decision of the trial court, the written notice will state that the trial court’s decision is affirmed. This written notice may include a written opinion of the court, or it may simply affirm the trial court ruling without a written opinion. If the court disagrees with the decision of the trial court, it will issue a written opinion reversing the trial court and explaining why the trial court ruling was wrong. The opinion will include directions to the trial court judge about what further action should be taken.
If you have lost on appeal and you believe that the court has overlooked or misinterpreted either the facts or the law, then you may file a motion for rehearing or clarification within fifteen (15) days of the date of the order advising that you have lost. These motions are not favored. You may not simply reargue your case. (See Rule 9.330)
A mandate will be issued by the DCA after it has taken all necessary actions to complete the appeal. A mandate is a written notice sent to you and to the trial court advising that the appellate process has been completed. (Rule 9.340) At that point, the trial court is once again in control of the case.